It seems like heresy at this point but we still need to exercise some patience with the 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs.
As good as they have been, and after putting the finishing touches on one of the best individual months in NBA history, the Spurs are still somewhat of a work in progress.
It's thre that if the playoffs started today, the current product is good enough to challenge for a NBA title. This team is already one of the best teams in the Tim Duncan Era, which is saying quite a lot given the pedigree.
But there are plenty of variables that must be sorted out over the next few months. For starters, LaMarcus Aldridge is gradually finding his comfort level in San Antonio, as he toes the line between go-to scorer and cog in the Spurs system. He's managed the transition wonderfully, with his 24 point, 9 rebound outing against the Rockets last night arguably being his most complete and Spurs-y performance to date.
Kawhi Leonard is just scratching the surface of his talent, brandishing his long arms, athleticism and a deft scoring touch. It doesn't seem like he's even glimpsed his ceiling yet. And, in the case of Danny Green, perhaps all he needed was a change in year. The beginning of his 2015-16 season was uuuuuugly (with extra u's for good measure) on the offensive end, with one of the best perimeter shooters in Spurs history not even coming to close to respectability. The form seemed to be there. Many of his shots seemed to be on line. He just didn't make threes at his normal rate. Was it a fundamental shooting flaw? Were the shooting woes affecting him mentally? A little of both? Neither?
For at least a game, 2016 Green looked just like the Green of old, drilling long range perimeter shots and mirroring James Harden on the other end. Even though Green's defense never deteriorated, his inability to consistently knock down 3-pointers prevented the Spurs starting lineup from reaching another offensive stratosphere. Only if/when Green made shots could the Spurs starters unlock their full offensive potential. His progression to the mean as a shooter is a major domino for the unit, which is outscoring a teams by a respectable 6 points per 100 possessions this season. That still feels like a drop in the bucket, when you consider that the same starting lineup with Tiago Splitter outscored opponents by 23.6 points per 100 possessions last year and 14.6 points per 100 possessions in 2013-14.
And then there's the surprising emergence of Jonathon Simmons and Boban Marjanovic, relative unknowns at the beginning of the season. Both have proven to be valuable contributors when given the opportunity. Along with the consistent and dynamic Patty Mills and Boris Diaw, San Antonio still has one of the best benches in the NBA. "Tea Time" Diaw, more on him later, is currently playing his best basketball ever in a Spurs uniform, operating as a poor man's Draymond Green that can do everything on a basketball court. In Leonard, Aldridge and Diaw, San Antonio has three guys that match up well with the Golden State Warriors and their "Lineup of Death."
Yet there still feels like there is untapped potential from this team. Incorporating Aldridge and David West, and adjusting the roles of The Big Three to conform with the rest of the moving parts, isn't an instantaneous switch. While Manu Ginobili's role is largely the same as last season, Tony Parker is managing the transition to a tertiary scorer and occasional closer instead of go-to weapon. Tim Duncan is facing the biggest transformation of all, as his scoring production has dipped to a career-low 12 points per 36 minutes.
Gregg Popovich fundamentally changed his team in the offseason with the tacit understanding that it would take months to see the best of this team. Like the Philadelphia 76ers, this year's motto could ostensibly be Trust the Process because this was never going to be a finished product until the latter part of the season. (Well, all basketball teams technically aren't "finished" until the end of the season, but this is especially true for this year's Spurs.)
As historically good as their start has been, the best basketball from the 2015-16 Spurs is still ahead.
- LaMarcus Aldridge: 24 points on 10-16 shooting, 9 rebounds, 2 steals, +22.
- Danny Green: 18 points on 6-9 shooting, 6 3-pointers, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 1 block, +12.
- Boris Diaw: 20 points on 8-13 shooting, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 3-pointers, 2 steals, +18.
- Kawhi Leonard: 22 points on 8-12 shooting, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 3-pointers, +13.
Couldn't pick just one guy, because they were all fantastic.
Quote of the night
"LaMarcus calls him tea time, because he's out there taking his time, drinking his tea while he's going down the lane."
- Danny Green on Boris Diaw
By the numbers
- +476: Spurs' point differential through 35 games, the second-highest mark in NBA history at this point. Only the 1971-72 Lakers (+487) were better.
- +330: Spurs' point differential at home this season. That amounts to a 16.5 point average margin of victory every game which is just ridiculous.
- 1,359: Consecutive games in which Tim Duncan scored a point. It was the longest streak to begin a career according to Elias. And the Spurs still won by 18 points because Spurs.
- 29-6: Tying the Spurs' best start through 35 games in franchise history. The 2010-11 Spurs also started the year 29-6.
- 20: Consecutive home wins this season, tying the second-longest streak to begin the season by a Western Conference team. The 1977-78 Portland Trailblazers began the season 26-0 at home. Dating back to last season, San Antonio has won 29 consecutive games at the AT&T Center.
- 121: Points for the Spurs, setting a new season-high.
- 84: Points from LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw and Danny Green. The rest of the Spurs combined for 37 points.
- 10: Points from the old Spurs Big Three (Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili).
- 3: Free throw attempts for Harden, tying his season low. He averages a league-high 10.3 attempts per game.
- 1: Point from James Harden, blanketed by Green, in the second half.
- Not enough attention is given to David West (10 points on 5-6 shooting last night), but the man has been well-worth the (small) investment. He's a dead-eye mid-range shooter that, most importantly, flashes excellent passing vision. The best part about West is that he's able to make the correct pass at the correct time, without stalling or hesitation. In basketball, where every precious second matters, West is consistently able to be ahead of the defense.
- Popovich played Boban, Boris and Matt Bonner together last night, which just seems unfair.
- Although San Antonio outscored Houston in each of the first three quarters, it was an un-even performance until the middle of the third quarter when the Spurs went on a 31-7 in eight minutes. THEY WERE SCORING FOUR POUNTS A MINUTE. The floodgates opened and the Rockets were never the same. This could've been another 20-point win, but the Spurs let off the gas in the fourth quarter.
While Kobe is jacking 20 shots a night and losing, Duncan is riding the bench, not scoring and his team is still beating teams by 20 points.— Quixem Ramirez (@quixem) January 3, 2016
Kawhi is smiling. During a game. The Rockets might be done for now.— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) January 3, 2016
Danny Green hits his first 3 of 2016. pic.twitter.com/Vyh3M1J5AV— Aaerios (@Aaerios) January 3, 2016
new year, new me pic.twitter.com/0vxztZugA6— alex (@steven_lebron) January 3, 2016
The money has changed him, man. https://t.co/KkSFbNqErN— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) January 3, 2016
Taco Bell menu item of the game
Not one of the best defensive performances of the season, but the team's offensive explosion more than made up for that. Given the opponent, this may have been the Spurs' best win of the season. For more than half of the game, the Spurs were decimating the Rockets. And for that, they deserve the quesarito -- a burrito and quesadilla -- because, well, you can't ever go wrong with a quesarito.
And that's a wrap. Until next time ...